Did US Rep. Michael Grimm break campaign finance laws?

US Rep. Michael Grimm, (R) of New York, faces federal indictment for violating campaign finance laws. Grimm's difficulties could complicate things for the GOP in the 2014 congressional elections.

Gary Cameron/REUTERS
US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) talks to the media after a meeting at the Capitol. Grimm, who is under investigation for campaign finance violations, is likely to be indicted. Grimm was elected to the House in 2010 as part of a wave of conservatives backed by the tea party movement.

US Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican and former FBI agent who came to Congress on the tea party wave of 2010, is facing indictment on political corruption charges involving his campaign financing.

Mr. Grimm’s lawyer acknowledged Friday that the congressman – the subject of a Justice Department investigation that’s lasted nearly two years – expects to be indicted, although attorney William McGinley characterized the probe as a “politically driven vendetta.”

Likely charges – yet to be formally announced – reportedly will include mail fraud, wire fraud, violations of federal tax law, and obstruction of justice.

“After more than two years of investigation plagued by malicious leaks, violations of grand jury secrecy, and strong-arm tactics, the US Attorney’s Office has disclosed its intent to file criminal charges against Congressman Grimm,” Mr. McGinley said in an emailed statement.

CQ Roll Call magazine sums up the background to Grimm’s expected indictment this way:

“In August of [2012], one of Grimm’s biggest fundraisers, a New York rabbi and Israeli citizen named Ofer Biton, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges that he made false statements about the source of $400,000 he loaned to a company as part of an entrepreneurial visa program administered by the government.

“Foreigners without green cards are barred from giving to US political campaigns and making donations of more than $100 in cash.

“This past January, the FBI arrested Diana Durand of Houston, Texas, on charges that she funneled $10,000 to Grimm during his 2010 campaign, using different names.”

On Friday, Ms. Durand (who had been romantically involved with Grimm) was indicted on charges that she had used straw donors to make illegal campaign contributions. She also was charged with making false statements to the FBI when she said she didn't reimburse straw donors for their contributions to Grimm’s campaign.

Grimm made (for him) unwelcome news in January when he threatened a reporter who had begun asking about the federal investigation into Grimm’s campaign finances. Grimm later apologized.

Grimm isn’t the only member of Congress facing political corruption charges.

The Houston Chronicle reported Friday that US Rep. Steve Stockman (R) of Texas is the subject of an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee, which is looking into the Mr. Stockman’s campaign finances.

Stockman attempted to downplay the inquiry, the newspaper reported.

“My office is aware of and is cooperating fully with the Ethics Committee’s preliminary inquiry into an FEC [Federal Elections Commission] reporting error,” Stockman said in a statement. “I thus join 34 of my colleagues who have also been the subject of an Office of Congressional Ethics review in the 113th Congress, and am confident the Ethics Committee will ultimately dismiss the matter after it completes a careful review.”

The Washington Post reports that Grimm is the seventh lawmaker to be indicted while serving in Congress in the past decade.

The political ramifications of Grimm’s difficulties – particularly as the 2014 congressional elections approach – are unclear.

“House GOP leaders released no statements on the second-term lawmaker’s troubles Friday, while Democrats – who had already identified Grimm as a key target in the November midterms – predicted it would make his reelection more difficult,” the Post reported. “The New York filing deadline for candidates has already passed, meaning that Republicans may be stuck with Grimm on the ballot, or without a nominee in the November elections if Grimm steps down before then.”

For a very brief period this week, environmentalists thought they’d found a new ally in Grimm, who – unusual for a Republican lawmaker – announced that he’d changed his position and now saw climate change as a reality that needed to be addressed.

Given Grimm’s new political and perhaps legal difficulties, he is unlikely to be welcomed into the green fold.

As is typical in such cases, Grimm vows to fight any charges.

“We are disappointed by the government’s decision, but hardly surprised,” McGinley, Grimm’s attorney, said in his statement Friday. “Congressman Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing. When the dust settles, he will be vindicated. Until then, he will continue to serve his constituents with the same dedication and tenacity that has characterized his lifetime of public service as a Member of Congress, Marine Corps combat veteran, and decorated FBI Special Agent.”

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